What is true in what they sell us as “healthy life”?


The bombardment of messages about what “healthy living” is is constant. Organisms, institutions, private companies and fitness gurus try to convince us at all times that their formulas are the best solution to lead a healthy life and age in a healthy way. The questions we ask ourselves are: Are these “recipes” true? Are they based on scientific evidence?

In the Report on physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyle in the Spanish adult population prepared by the Spain Active Foundation in 2019 we were warned that physical inactivity was responsible for 13.4% of deaths per year in Spain. In other words, each year more than 52,000 lives are ahead. Not content with that, the scourge of inactivity represents an economic burden for the country of more than 1,560 million euros. Of these, 70.5% are paid by public administrations.

Given this situation, which is not foreign to the rest of the industrialized countries, in 2013 the World Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases of the World Health Organization (WHO) was created. And two years later, the European Physical Activity Strategy of the WHO regional office for Europe, in force until 2025.

It doesn’t matter the quantity but the intensity

From the WHO, in their plausible goal of reducing sedentary levels in the world, they launched the proposal to walk at least 10,000 daily steps, which is equivalent to 7 kilometers. Not long ago, a study by the University of Warwick (United Kingdom) raised this number to 15,000 steps . Logically, this is “better than nothing”, but it is not the solution. Because it has been known for several decades that the benefit of physical exercise does not depend so much on the volume (meters, repetitions, steps, etc.) but on the intensity with which it is performed.

It is not uncommon to see occasional athletes enter collective sessions in the gym without knowing the adequate intensity to which physical exercise can bring benefits. In indoor cycle classes , for example, we find from the young athlete in his twenties to the retiree “who was passing by.” Both working with the same intensity.

And of course, then what happens happens. That normal is the abandonment of activities and the lack of adherence to physical exercise. A problem that can be attributed to the fact that it is impossible to improve and be rewarded the effort made if you do not work at the right intensity.

The worst thing is that, if we fall short of intensity, the benefits of spending hours trained in the gym or practicing running are reduced. And both the heart and the blood vessels and the brain notice the difference. Among other things because science has evidence that high intensity exercise triggers endorphins, delays cognitive impairment, improves memory and stops the Parkinson’s feet .

Physical activity is not the same as physical exercise

At this point it is important to differentiate between “physical activity” and “physical exercise”.

The WHO defines physical activity as any body movement produced by skeletal muscles, with the consequent energy consumption. That includes activities done while working, playing, or traveling, as well as household chores and recreational activities.

On the contrary, physical exercise requires correct planning of your goals, embodied in tasks that respect the programmed intensity and performed systematically over time. For this you need a professional to determine the appropriate load. In people with some pathology, it should be the doctor who prescribes the exercise, and the professional of the sports sciences who determines the contents and intensity.

And here a third concept enters the scene: sport , which, unlike the practice of general physical exercise, exponentially increases the benefits described above and favors adherence to it. Basically we can describe it as a form of physical activity subject to specific rules or norms. Its most playful or social facet is represented in recreational sport and its most competitive facet in competitive sport.

Lifting weights reduces mortality

Since the 1980s, sports professionals have conjectured about the advisability of muscle strength training for the improvement of health, well-being and quality of life. But in recent years, the evidence has been overwhelming. A recent study from the University of Sydney (Australia) put on the table that people who lift weights and do other types of strength exercises reduce the risk of premature death by 23%. And by 31% the probability that a cancer will take them ahead.

On the other hand, physical exercise – strength or not, but aerobic – has a high impact on the body mass index, which implies that it slows the development of overweight / obesity, one of the main causes of development of comorbidities.

For more information, by exercising we manage to be more productive, reverse the effects of aging on muscles and organs, and reduce the emotional stress in which many of us are involved as a result of work, haste or personal disenchantment. In addition to caring for the heart, as an article published in Nature Reviews showed up not long ago.

“Unlike most drugs, exercise is largely free of adverse effects, and its benefits are, to some degree, dose-dependent,” the authors reflected. Reasons for more for health professionals to start prescribing physical exercise. After all, is there any more effective and cheaper pill for sale in pharmacies?

The dangerous fitness market

There is a not very encouraging variable in the current conception of sports practice, and that is that it has become “in fashion”. And the fashions, we all know it well, are ephemeral. Countless computer applications, in addition to “prophets” of social networks, organize training programs and nutritional guidelines for us without taking into account the people they are aimed at. Generalizing thus stresses the users who follow them, who end up feeling useless.

The world of fitness , which moves billions of euros in our country, does not stand too well . Along with non-pharmaceutical products, which can be purchased without any control on the internet – with the danger that this entails – there is a real legion of personal trainers without training. They are capable of designing a multitude of tasks, yes, but without adequate control of individual intensity.

As a conclusion, we will say that in order to have a healthy life and active aging, it is essential to carry out physical exercise in a systematic way – if possible, regulated by a specialist in the field – adapt our diet to caloric requirements and reduce stress until it becomes a positive variable in the advancement of our existence.

Author Bio: José Manuel García García is Department of Physical and Sports Education at the University of Castilla-La Mancha